Seventy-five years after the first coelacanth was trawled off East London and thirteen years after their discovery in the Sodwana Bay section of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, an international research collaboration under the auspices of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority is underway.
It is one of 148 research projects currently being undertaken in iSimangaliso, South Africa’s sole marine and terrestrial world heritage site. With only 46 marine world heritage sites globally iSimangaliso is considered one of the ‘Jewels of the Oceans’.
The expedition represented an important opportunity to build the knowledge base on coelacanths and marine ecosystems with new opportunities for science and deep sea research capacity.
This knowledge will be used to inform the iSimangaliso Authority’s conservation and protection strategies for this flagship species. – Park CEO Andrew Zaloumis
With increasing impacts on marine world heritage sites from climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, overfishing and invasive species, international research collaborations like the coelacanth expedition are becoming more important.
The research expedition was undertaken with a deep mixed-gas diving team, making use of a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) which undertook a wider search for coelacanths in the Park. iSimangaliso Wetland Park has an extensive marine protected area and the ROV completed dives from Island Rock Canyon in the north to Chaka Canyon in the south.
Highlights of the ROV dives included sightings of a thresher shark on the canyon margin, a one metre long red steenbras, a first sighting of a ‘seventy four’ fish in the canyons and other new records and potential new species.